All British and Irish swifts now nest in man-made structures, apart from a few using pines in Abernethy Forest or cliffs in County Fermanagh and Malham Cove in Yorkshire. So as individuals – home-owners, architects, builders, planners – we hold the future of these scythe-winged birds in our hands.
Modern building practices have had a massive impact on swifts, as the open eaves and crevices they need for nesting have been replaced with super-smooth walls and PVC fascias and soffits. Ironically, hermetically sealed eco-houses are the worst.
But growing numbers of ‘swift nuts’ are setting up local groups – from Cambridge to Exeter, Ludlow, Sedbergh, Edinburgh and Belfast – dedicated to helping their neighbourhood swifts.
The simplest thing you can do is fit a row of swift boxes under house eaves. Many commercial models are available, or make your own from exterior ply using plans on the Action for Swifts website. Hollow ‘swift bricks’ can also be incorporated into the tops of walls (easiest in new-builds or renovations). Church towers with louvred openings make ideal nest sites, too, so why not ask your local vicar if you can design bespoke boxes for the belfry?
Swifts take several years to establish new colonies. But by playing calls in the morning and evening you can attract passing birds – especially two- or three-year-olds prospecting for future nest sites in June or July. I find a cheap car ‘tweeter’ fixed to a wall and wired to an amplifier works best.
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Swift Conservation and the RSPB are trying to persuade developers to make Britain’s promised housing boom swift-friendly. But as individuals we all have a vital part to play.
3 swift facts you need to know
- Swifts are arial plankton-feeders and nest in man-made structures.
- The main threats to swifts are loss of nest sites.
- Swifts live up to 20 years in the wild.
Main image: Common swift in flight. © Arterra/Universal Images Group/Getty